June 7, 2012

This is NOT my JAM

Lasting First Impressions of JAM Live Music Arcade from Zivix

JAM boxartOver the years, we’ve seen many rhythm-based music games come and go.  Ostensibly, the genre was at its peak with Guitar Hero III and Rock Band in late 2007.  Since then, our homes have been littered with a variety of plastic musical instrument peripherals.  JAM Live Music Arcade is the latest from music education and entertainment software developer, Zivix, and gives you the opportunity to dust off your favourite fake guitar and ‘jam’ out with the game’s many tracks.

JAM consists of two main modes: JAM Mode and Arcade Mode.  JAM Mode basically comprises a freeform music creation console and Arcade Mode is a rhythm based exercise that tests the skills learned in JAM Mode.  At the outset, Arcade Mode was locked away until all JAM Mode challenges had been completed.  Deciding where to begin was a no-brainer.  JAM can be played with either a standard gamepad controller or a guitar controller; I elected to use my trusty wireless Stratocaster.

Gameplay consists of using the fret buttons to select one or more of the five instrument banks to activate, giving you access to any of the five tracks within each bank.  Instrument banks include drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, vocals, and sound effects and tracks represents variations on a loop using that instrument.  An upward strum on the guitar activates the selected instrument bank.  Once your selected instruments have been activated, the fret buttons then give you access to the tracks within the activated banks and a downward strum triggers the selected tracks within each selected bank.  This may sound a little complicated, but the tutorial does a serviceable job of walking you through each step and a friendly voice guides you through JAM Mode’s various challenges from Trainee difficulty to Star.

JAM screen 1

Although JAM Mode is completely freeform, a score is calculated based on how perfectly you time the addition or removal of tracks to the beat of the music. Bronze, Silver, and Gold medals can be achieved but a lack of a time limit means Gold medals can easily be earned with persistence.  Once the basic mechanics have been mastered, you can dabble in freeform tracks that can be triggered in real-time at your musical discretion (although they are prone to the same technical sync issues that plague drum solos in Rock Band depending on your setup) and you can also swap between up to three banksets using the whammy bar.  Banksets represent further variations in the style of a given bank and track and allow the further creative freedom to direct the song into verses, bridges, and choruses.  There is some enjoyment to be had in JAM Mode but the large number of unknown artists, bland tracks, and lack of any real social hook ensure that it won’t last long.

Where JAM falls apart is in Arcade Mode.  Arcade Mode requires the player to follow timed prompts along the game’s equivalent of a ‘note highway’ in order to recreate pre-made song arrangements using the console made familiar in JAM Mode.  Even after spending a decent amount of time in the highest difficulties of JAM Mode, the foray into Arcade Mode proved extremely frustrating as the on-screen prompts were unintuitive and difficult to discern.  To make matters worse, failure to correctly follow a prompt results in the highway becoming shorter, giving you less time to prepare for each transition and resulting in even more mistakes; a vicious cycle indeed.  The addition of this failure penalty at higher difficulty levels would have perhaps made the learning curve a little more gradual and eased the frustration somewhat.

JAM screen 2

So if you’re looking for some relaxing music creation and don’t mind a mostly indie-soundtrack, JAM Mode can help you pass a couple of hours but don’t expect your friends to gather around the television to cheer you on or to participate in any meaningful way.  Unless you have laser sharp vision, perfect hand-eye coordination, and lightning fast reflexes that border on precognition, avoid Arcade Mode completely.  Me? I’m going back to Rock Band.

Zivix, I gave you an hour and I am NOT IMPRESSED.

About the Author

is an avid gamer on all platforms, unapologetic graphics whore and peripheral junkie. He is also a drummer both electronic and acoustic, a loving husband, and adoring father to two lovely girls. Follow Craig on Twitter as @Talus as he eats sandwiches and posits on the latest inconsequential happenings in the games industry.



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